February 2007 - Mobile Marketing

In 2006, Disney Mobile launched a full-scale marketing strategy that included television, radio, print and online to promote its comprehensive cellular phone service for families.

By Vitisia Paynich (Photos by Jeff Archambeau)

Nowadays, kids have a legion of high-tech gadgets at their disposal-from MP3 players to video game units to the most advanced computer systems on the market. Yet, when it comes to parents arming their offspring with a cell phone, that’s where it can get…well, sticky.

In millions of households throughout the U.S., it’s the same scenario: children approaching their parents and asking for a mobile phone. Fear suddenly pulses through parents’ veins as they begin to calculate the thousands of minutes being racked up-with cell phone bills so outrageous, they begin to wonder if they should take out a second mortgage on their home.

The wireless phone industry is a tightly competitive market, offering a myriad of packages that include various rates for minutes and other services for individual customers. Family plans seem to be getting the most marketing buzz lately, with carriers rolling out their shared-minute deals for voice and text messaging.

Yet, with so many different family plans to select from, are carriers really meeting the needs of the parents? That’s what Disney wanted to find out when it launched Disney Mobile three years ago.

“We did a lot of focus groups and studied the family in terms of the market segment requirements,” recalls Sunir Kochhar, vice president of product development and operations at Disney Mobile in Burbank, Calif., “and what we came up with was a product that was very much centered toward the family.”

He explains that a lot of the family plans offered by wireless carriers are mostly geared toward sharing minutes. “Our plan was not about sharing minutes, but actually for providing the utility that enables a family to communicate better with each other.”

Disney Mobile phone service gives parents complete control of their child’s cell phone experience.

In June 2005, Disney Mobile signed a contract with Sprint to develop a comprehensive phone service that would help parents manage their children’s entire cell phone experience. Disney Mobile phone service not only offers parents management capabilities, but also provides children with a variety of entertainment features.

Parental control inspired the development of the product, along with ease of use. “When parents come and buy a handset, all the features are automatically activated on the [device],” Kochhar points out.

The Disney Family Centerâ„¢ tools include four main web-based features: Family Monitor, Call Control, Family Locator and Family Alert.

The Family Monitor feature designates parents as the family manager who sets monthly spending limits for each child, such as voice minutes, text messaging, picture messaging and downloadable content like ring tones and background themes.

The Call Control feature lets the parents choose the days of the week and time of day their children can make or receive calls, which helps minimize concern over inappropriate usage during school hours. What’s more, the feature affords parents the flexibility of programming up to 20 “always on” numbers-such as parents’ work numbers-that their kids can call or receive even during restricted times. They also can create a list of up to 20 prohibited numbers-thereby monitoring the child’s phone activity. Parents easily can access and operate the feature online.

“The cool part of the whole call-control feature is when you look at the market right now and you want to buy a phone for your kid, you have two choices with other carriers-either it’s wide open or it’s completely shut off,” says Kochhar. “What we provide is basically a system that allows you to control it as much as you want, so you can vary the scale of control based on each of the kids.”

The next feature, Family Locator, allows parents to locate their children’s handsets online using global positioning system (GPS) technology. When the child’s whereabouts has been determined, the location appears and a map can be selected as well.

With the Family Alert feature, important family messages become prioritized-bypassing other voice or text messages the child may be receiving.

The Family Center features include monitoring, call control, locating and alert capabilities. The Family Locator feature employs GPS technology that enables parents to locate their kids and access maps on a handset or online.

Paul M. Borselli, director of marketing at Disney Mobile, says what sets his company apart from other carriers is the fact that the Family Center features are included in one package, which helps when it comes to cost.

“We’ve heard time and time again through research and through parents calling up and ordering our service about their nightmare bill with another carrier,” he says.

Each situation is often similar, says Borselli, “kids have charged hundreds of dollars in texting and voice messages without the parents’ knowledge. Our Family Monitor feature enables the parents to set the allowance and receive notification that the kid has reached that [set limit].”

Pricing is based on individual and family plans. Individual plans range from a $24.99 Kid Starter Plan including 200 daytime minutes, to $169.99 featuring 3,500 daytime minutes. Family plans include two lines of service starting from $59.99 for 450 daytime minutes up to $249.99 for 4,500 daytime minutes.

The next step was to roll out the product to the public. First, came the soft launch in June 2006. According to Borselli, the company first targeted customers-or guests-from other business entities such as Disney park members.

“Then we started a fully integrated marketing campaign that included radio, television, direct mail, online and print advertising,” explains Borselli. The multichannel launch began on July 31.

For the print advertising, Disney focused on its own publication, called Family Fun, and then gradually ventured into other magazines like Family Circle. “We also went into [other] mom-focused magazines like Us Weekly with our advertising,” he adds.

For television advertising, Borselli and his team drew from their own well. “Most of our advertising spend in the month of July through the end of September went into Disney-owned properties,” he says. Disney Mobile ads aired on ABC, ABC Family, ABC Daytime and Primetime, E and the Style Network. In September, the marketing team bought airtime on other networks, including CBS, NBC, TNT and Fox.

This LG DM-L200 handset has voice- activated dialing.

“However, we primarily focused on using the company-synergy programs to really get the message out,” notes Borselli. “Disney has a huge customer base and guest space with nine divisions, so we’ve really been tapping what we see as the low-hanging fruit.”
Disney launched four television ads highlighting its Family Center features.

The radio ads, which aired on Radio Disney, also touted the service features and other unique applications.

Online advertising and direct mail rounded out the integrated marketing campaign. “We did online advertising ranging from keywords to e-mail to banner advertising to rich media using flash technology,” says Borselli. Direct mail included an introduction to the Family Center features, as well as special offers that were distributed to the general market in late July.

With the marketing strategy underway, the backend operation needed securing. Kochhar explains that Disney needed to find a company that fit in line with the overall Disney brand and what it means to its guests.

“We went through a pretty extensive evaluation process,” he continues. Disney wanted a customer service vendor that not only had the technological capabilities, but also one that had a track record of exceptional customer service.

Kochhar recalls that he was impressed with West Corporation’s fine balance of technical and guest-handling skills. “At the same time, a lot of the backend systems that West has invested in and currently provide are really differentiating their services in the market,” he adds. “I think they’re one of the only companies that really have a homegrown IVR system, which ensures that they can be flexible to the needs of the customer.”

Thus, Disney selected West of Omaha, Neb., to handle its cell phone customer service. Kochhar says when his team started with West, together they went full force into the hiring process for call-center agents or “cast members.”

“West recruited cast members using a very strict competency and rigorous testing procedures, as well as those that exemplified the brand,” explains Janet Anderson, vice president of client operations at West.

Following the hiring process, cast members were required to complete four weeks of Disney Mobile training. The initial week of training covered a substantial amount of Disney legacy, so that the cast members would be deeply entrenched in the Disney tradition and could thoroughly answer guests’ questions. In addition, cast members were trained on handset features, call plans and program benefits.

“Disney wanted their guests to have a magical and positive experience with all facets of the Disney Mobile product. They wanted to ensure that their guests understood and were satisfied with every aspect of their service, product and all of the functionality variables that make their product unique and necessary,” says Anderson.

Since launching the program in June, the results have been phenomenal for Disney. The integrated marketing campaign drew response from all channels, but it was the television ads that triggered the largest call spikes-requiring the call center to act quickly using both automated and live agent support.

Were there any obstacles encountered along the way? According to Anderson, “The primary obstacle we would encounter would be the levels of call volume that would be generated by the various media events.”

To rectify the various call volumes, West was able to utilize its home-agent workforce to minimize the steep call spikes resulting from the TV media, but, acknowledges Anderson, “it was a challenging experience for our team.”

Disney Mobile’s Kochhar agrees. He notes that the large call volumes also caught him off guard. “We had to change some of the processes. And once we did that, we did a much better job of handling the volume.”

He credits West’s quick turnaround and flexibility. “We found them (West) to be very responsive in terms of trying to change the system,” Kochhar notes. “We had to do a lot of quick thinking to make it work, but West definitely stepped up to the plate to make it happen.”

We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please e-mail the magazine at [email protected].


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